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My Life as Cosmo Kramer: Day seven of living with No Refrigerator

Kramer loved his life with no refrigerator. But he didn’t have three children to feed


“Kramer: Ahh, no, no, no. You got me all wrong buddy. I am loving this no refrigerator. You know what I discovered? I really like depriving myself of things. It’s fun. Very monastic. 

George: Well what do you eat? 

Kramer: It’s all fresh. Fresh fish, fresh foul, fresh fruit. I buy it, I omniga nominga, I eat it.”

Remember that episode? It was funny. But to live a life in the 21st Century with nowhere to put your milk and eggs and cheese, that’s another story.

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Sears, again, I wait for the refrigerator repairman.

For the third time. The right parts, this time, have also been waiting in my entryway for the past two days.

But still, no repairman.

I’ve gotten pretty good at working out a system though.

Every day, I buy the smallest possible container of milk.

Instead of stocking up for a whole week, I buy a maximum of 10 pieces of fruit.

It’s a good thing I live up north, because the weekend’s snowfall provided me with cold stuff to pack into my cooler.

I plot out every meal plus snacks like cheese and yogurt for the kids to take in their lunches.

I have learned that most sources of protein and calcium  require refrigeration. I go buy these in small quantities each day as well.

I keep all my produce outside in my cooler. Like this:

Think about this:

How many times  a day you go to your refrigerator to eat a piece of fruit, drink a glass of milk or prepare a meal?

Every time I need to do this, I need to put  on my boots first and let in the cold air.

But even the Rochester cold is not cold enough to keep my strawberries from rotting or my milk from going sour after a day.

So, it’s almost 11 a.m. now. I’ve been waiting six days and .. three hours for refrigeration. It’s like waiting for Godot.

Sears, do you really think you are doing a good job by letting your customers, those who paid extra for a service contract, to live with no refrigeration for seven days?

Thank goodness  red wine does not need to be chilled.

My Husband’s Superbowl Sunday Dream

It’s hard to be a Giant fan in the land of the  Buffalo Bills.

Since my husband’s job transplanted us north, even though we still are in New York State (I think) we quickly realized that when it comes to sports teams, we were no longer in the New York City Metro area. Up in Western New York, no matter how badly they perform season after season, this is Buffalo Bills territory.

The Buffalo Bills have trained in Rochester in the summertime for about 12 years now. There are shuttle busses that transport thousands of adoring Bills fans from a local shopping mall to St. John Fisher College. Outside of the LPGA tournament, and Little League it’s perhaps the biggest sporting event in Rochester.

If you are a New York Giant fan (well, actually they *do* play in New Jersey), you have to keep rather quiet about it up here. You don’t hang out a Giant flag as many here hang out a Buffalo Bills Flag. You also don’t go around wearing Giants apparel.

Not even on an infant child.

When our third child was born, a longtime bachelor family friend from “downstate” bestowed upon him an Eli Manning fleece onsie.

When I took my baby out of the house dressed in it one day to pick up my older son at his elementary school, my son’s occupational therapist saw us waiting in the hall.

Obviously a Bills fan, instead of the usual cooing that one does at the sight of an adorable baby, she rudely asked me,

“Why would you dress him in THAT?!”

Up here, I get the buzz that most Rochesterians this Sunday will be rooting for the New England Patriots. This seems to be the consensus among my 6th and 7th grade students.  Because I think it’s the culture in Western New York that any team playing against the Giants is the team to root for.

Superbowl Sunday for my husband is a rather  lonely day. He works hard all week with other  transplants from even farther away: India, China, Europe. Not big Superbowl watchers in that engineering crowd. So, he really doesn’t have any friends up here. Not once in twelve years has he been asked to another man’s man cave for the Big Game. He doesn’t even need a man cave, he just needs a completely hetero man friend for a Superbowl date.

So, I’m looking for a date. For my husband. For Superbowl Sunday. You  must be a NY Giants Fan. Must have an understanding of the game that exceeds that of his wife (that’s me, and anyone, including my daughter, knows more about football than me).

I asked him what his dream Superbowl Sunday would look like. Who would be there? First he said he would watch it with his dad. And our brother-in-law Kenny. (What about my dad? He’s a Giant Fan too??) And our crazy hi-fivin’ nephews Addison, Barrett, and Jeremy. And all his buddies from his grad school days  at Cal Berkeley. They would sit in a newly made man cave, the one we will someday create in our basement with a big screen, speakers, a huge leather couch and a shaggy rug. Right now, that basement is a messy craft room.

They would scream things at the huge flat screen, like:

“I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY HELD HIM AT FIRST DOWN! “

and ….

“INTERCEPTION” and “HOLDING!!”

I think that’s what they yell. I don’t understand football. So help me out with some things guys  scream at a TV watching football. I didn’t research that one all the way.

And for food, well I can do that. I’m making him hot dogs and wings and getting him a huge bag of chips and salsa. And some Tums for dessert.

And of course, the Giants will pull off a stunning victory. That, my friends will be no dream.

GO GIANTS!!!!!!!!

Just the Facts, Mom! I’m studying for midterms.

Can you name this world leader?

My daughter came down from her bedroom to talk to me the other night.

No, this sentence warrants a six-column headline:

My daughter came down from her bedroom to talk to me the other night

That’s better.

After all, she is 15. Aside from emerging for meals, school, and showers, she lives in her room.

In another astounding development, my brilliant, confident and extremely disciplined daughter came down to ask me – her mom (!) to help her study!

She asked me to help her study! She still needs me!

Fantastic!

This week marks her first set of high school midterms. I admire her extra efforts for studying for them. Math and science is dad’s department. But current events and English, that is my domain. We began to review for her social studies exam. But  as we started to review the material – and please – JUST the material – the thought-provoking documentary Race to Nowhere came to mind.

As she crammed the names and positions of 40 current world leaders into her head, was she truly gaining an understanding of current world events? I am a news junkie, so I couldn’t help but wonder – she was memorizing names with faces, but was she learning?

My daughter thrust into my hands a four-page study packet that had 40 mug shots of leaders of North America, Asia and Europe. Also included in the lineup were that week’s Republican candidates who were vying for the nomination for this November’s presidential election. We started with those:

I asked: “Can you name the candidates who are running in the Republican primary?’

“Sure: Gingrich. Romney, and, um — Santorum!”

Great, she had them down. And Perry had just dropped out. But for me, these answers aren’t good enough. After all, in by the time the 2016 Presidential election comes around, she’ll be old enough to vote. So I press on:

“Who is this Newt Gingrich and what position of government did he hold in the past? What was he known for doing in this position?

“I don’t care, mom, that’s not on the test! Just names and positions, Mom.”

I could in some ways  empathize with her. The Social Studies midterm was just one test in a slew of tests she will face this week. She still had to conjugate lots of verbs in Spanish for another test. And tackle some tough algebra problems for yet another. Names and faces of world leaders, that’s plenty to know. But is it?

I pressed on.

“Who is the secretary of state?”

“Easy. Hillary Clinton.”

I couldn’t help myself: “And what does the secretary of state do? And what was she before she was secretary of state?”

“Not important, it won’t be on the test! Next leader, please….This is why I like to study with dad more than you!”

“Who is the leader of Venezuela?”

“No problem, Ces, Chavez…. he has a mustache!

“Yes. Now, which other world leader is he getting into bed with and why is this a problem?”

“Into bed with?!?”

“It’s just an expression. It means getting buddy-buddy with.”

“I don’t know! Who cares, it’s-“

“….I know it’s not on the test.  But he is getting cozy with a leader in the Middle East in a country that starts with an I-“

“Okay, I know this one, the president of Iran is Ahmadinejad.”

I personally hope she won’t have to spell that one…

“And why is this a problem? What do these countries both have a lot of that we depend on?

“I don’t knoooooww, mom! Sugar? This will not be on the test!”

“Oil, honey, they both have oil and they are both consider the US as an enemy. Oh, and what other country does Iran consider an enemy?”

“This is not on the TEST!”

But she knows. She knows the leaders of Iran want to wipe Israel off the map. She knows this because it’s what we discuss at home. Just like she knew the leader of Israel was Benjamin Netanyahu before she got that study packet.

So, how many world leaders or members of the US cabinet can you recognize or name? And does rattling off these names make our high school students any more knowledgeable on current events?

On a final note, my daughter invited a friend home to study and have dinner with us tonight. Another source of midterm stress: the English composition.

“This could be on ANYTHING, mom. We just won’t know what we are going to have to write about. I mean, the topic could be: What are the social implications of when Neil Young walked on the moon?!”

Buy Daughter Skis, Feed the Chickadees, Mendon, NY

Ever since my daughter started high school, I don’t see her that much. She doesn’t talk to me that much either. She is either in school, at practice, or up in her room studying, texting or skyping.

So, when she starts talking to me about taking on a new challenge like cross-country skiing, even though it’s a language almost foreign to me, I had better listen.

I tried to downhill ski, once.  It was in California on a weekend away with my husband’s grad school buddies.  Long ago, on a bunny hill somewhere in Lake Tahoe, Calif., I decided that strapping waxed wooden pieces to my feet and then surrenduring my body to the mercy of gravity was simply a horrible idea.

I was better suited for a flatter, more level playing field. So, the next year, I attempted cross-country skiing. I thought, how hard could it be? There are no hills to hurtle down and cause bodily injury. There are no ski lifts to try to jump on. Again, my new husband and I headed to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. It was a perfect, fresh-powdered blue-skied day to take my first five-mile trek on cross-country skis. I could run five miles at a time, so how much harder could skiing it be?

Much harder. Much.

Any ability to get my poles and my arms in rhythm with my feet in my skis completely escaped me. As soon as I would get any momentum going, I’d topple over into the snow. After falling over for about the 72nd time (I’m not exaggerating), I just sat there and wept in frustration. I took off my skis, walked back to the lodge and had a hot chocolate while the others effortlessly glided along the lakeshore.

So, when my daughter came to me with those big blue  eyes sparkling with the promise of a new challenge, I was not going to put my failure on the slopes and the trails on her. But how much was this going to cost us?

We head out to a ski swap and sale at a middle school surrounded by farmland. This is one of the biggest ski swap and sales in the area, and the gym is packed with parents like us shopping from the area’s ski retailers. Thankfully, the high school ski coach is there to teach us the lingo (Classic skis, Combi skis and boots, Poles, Bindings.) and show us what we needed to buy. We need skis that she can use for both disciplines.

No, the two disciplines are not scary downhill and frustrating cross-country, as I thought.  There are actually two disciplines of cross-country: classic and skate.  About 40 minutes, — and hundreds of dollars – later, she had what she needed to hit the trails.

On the way home, we stopped at one of our favorite places to hike, Mendon Ponds Park, where my kids have been hand feeding the chickadees since they were little. It is one thing they still like to do and each time a bird lands in their hand, I get a glimpse into the past, see the little kids my big kids once were.

My daughter brings her poles along for the 2 mile hike, just to get a feel for them. Then, out of nowhere, my daughter wants me to give them a try. I listen to her and slip my thumb in the proper hole, adjust the velcro secure around the rest of my hand. Bend my elbows just so.  And, in one final hike before the snows fall, my daughter and I take turns with the poles along the trail. Together. Side by side.

Will there ever be peace in the Middle East?

I thought about writing some long diatribe about how many times Israel holds out the olive branch and how the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to make peace with Israel.

Then, this fell into my newly revamped Facebook feed. Enjoy. If it wasn’t so funny, it would be sad…

Topic #230: The meaning of the word kfajgi

I’ve been waiting for just the right time to blog about this made-up word that runs in my husband’s family. I was almost embarassed about the existence of this word but since WordPress is asking, I’m telling.

Now, kfajgi (pronounced ke-fag-ee) is a word that may have either Italian, Slavic or Yiddish origins. Let me show you how my mother and sister-in-laws use this word.

Kfajgi is used in terms of food: mostly pasta, sometimes lettuce.

For example, if you drain a pot of spaghetti and you let it sit in the colander for too long, it becomes kfajgi.

Or, if you leave lettuce in your lettuce crisper too long, and it is beyond use in a salad, getting soggy, it is kfajgi.

Perhaps, if seeing this, my mother-in-law can elaborate. Thanks for the inspiration, mom!

Talk to the Ear: A great idea for preschoolers

This is not my original idea, but I used it in our class last year and it worked very well:

Once upon a time there were three little boys: one had the hair the color of golden straw and eyes the color of a summer sky. One had rosy cheeks and dimples. The third had skin the color of the sands of the most beautiful beach and eyes like melted chocolate.

These boys loved each other very much – like brothers. But they also fought like brothers – over sharing toys, and who wasn’t sharing toys, and who had a longer turn with the rocket ship, and so on. With each tiny injustice that the three boys subjected on each other, they felt they must inform their teachers and snitch on one another.  Though the teachers loved these little boys very much, their constant snitching was driving them BATTY!

So, one day, the teacher saw a in a magazine great idea from another, much more seasoned teacher as a cure for snitching.

The next day, she brought in an advertisement from a newspaper about hearing aids. The picture was that of an ear.

It was a hairy ear.

It was a scary ear.

But this listening ear would prove to be very useful in the classroom. Because sometimes, preschoolers just want to be validated by saying things out loud. Even to an inanimate object. And by the time they finish expressing themselves, many times, they are already on their way to independently figuring out a conflict.

The next day, at circle time, the teachers introduced the ear to the whole class. They told them that if there was a problem that didn’t involve safety, for example: if someone had a toy for too long and another friend really wanted that toy but the first friend was not giving up the toy, the offended member of the non-sharing incident could go tell the ear.

Five or ten minutes into open play time, an offense was committed: the boy with the hair the color of straw really wanted the red ball. Really.

“Go ahead, tell the ear,” his teacher said with great encouragement.

The boy slowly approached the ear, placed at child’s height on the wall of the classroom. The boy did not know just what to do at the ear. Should he put his ear to the ear? Or his mouth to the ear? Should he whisper? Or shout?

By the time the boy confessed his problem to the ear, he saw the whole thing to be so funny, so hilarious, that instead of complaining, he found himself laughing and forgot what had gotten him so mad in the first place. By that time, the ball had been abandoned by his other friend.  And the offended boy went to play with a walkie-talkie, sans batteries.

And the three boys and their teachers lived happily ever after … until it was time to once more talk to the ear.

The Hunt for my next Human – Interest Story, that is….

This summer and hopefully for many months to follow, my editors have given me a new challenge – find interesting people to profile in the ROC East Towns of Pittsford, Victor, and Webster.  Find people with a unique way of making a living or those who possess a hobby, craft, talent, or story in their past that sets them apart. And make the idea photogenic, and coordinate your source’s schedule with a staff photographer; because photographers have to make a living too.

Come on people, I know you’re out there.

How do I know this? Because within one walking block of my house, I have found interesting people that would make incredible subjects for profile stories. Artists. Gardeners. Mysterious Xylophone players. People who used to live in Nepal.  But I only know these facts about my fabulous neighbors is because they are my  neighbors.

And if all these people inhabit just one small block of Rochester’s eastern towns, then just imagine who else could be out there – other fabulous people with hobbies, businesses, causes, or talents that really make them stand out.

So, if you know of any such people and they are your Pittsford, Victor or Webster neighbors, won’t you please ask them if they might like to be possibly featured in the Our Towns section of the Democrat & Chronicle? If they are a budding entrepreneur, artist, musician, this could only be a win-win situation.

If not, I just might show up in a suburban development near you, walking the sidewalkless streets wearing a placard that says “Got Story?”

Down and Dirty, Laissez faire Gardening

There are many magazine articles and blog posts that feature sumptuous photo spreads of gardens in full bloomed glory. Beds of perfect tulips. Rodent and insect-free vegetable gardens bursting with a unbitten, sun-ripened bounty.

This blog post will not be one of those. This is for the rest of us.

Any chance of me having one of those gardens, where the sun actually ripens tomatoes on the vine before the first frost, is gone. I missed out.  For whatever reason – maybe it was procrastination, or maybe for lack of believing that winter would ever end this year – I missed the March 1 deadline in signing up for a plot in the Brighton Community Garden. Yes, I believe that day in March, we were under a blizzard warning.

Gardening up North can be frustrating. The season is very short. Veteran Rochester gardeners warn the uninitiated not to plant anything in the ground before Memorial Day weekend. I received gasps of horror when I informed some that I had planted my tomatoes two weeks ago.  But they had become so leggy and pale looking under my basement grow lights, I really had no choice.

And my flowers? I’m trying not to have a meltdown after the bunnies in my garden CHOMPED off the heads the poppies that I have waited all winter to bloom. At least those red bugs have not attacked my Asiatic lilies. At least not yet.

That perfect garden is just not going to happen. So, this year I am just going to relax and keep it in perspective. I think about the ravaged midwest and how lucky we are in boring, tornado-free upstate New York. I think of the farmers who rely on the land and ideal weather conditions to make their living.

It has been one soggy spring, one of the rainiest in record in Western New York. In fact, in April, Western New York received 5.81 inches. So far, in May: 3.32 inches. Upstate farmers are weeks behind in planting their peas and corn. And the farmers at my East Hill CSA have already warned us that this year’s crops are getting a late start because of the soggy conditions.

This year, I am leaving my garden primarily up to nature, because I think She is the best gardener after all. I will embrace my failures.

The Zinnias that I started from seed in the winter are quite puny and can really use some sun and heat:

This Burpee "raspberry lemonade" zinnia did not make much progress under grow lights. Zinnias need heat to thrive

And tomatoes? These are the ones I planted from seed back in February, they also need some sun and need to dry out:

This tomato plant has a long way to go before it fills its cage

But some plants do well in cold wet weather. Here is a picture of the arugula I started from seed way back in the winter:

Arugula Grows well in cold weather - and the rabbits hate it.

But nature is the best gardener. I call these volunteers.  This year, if it is not a weed, I’m letting it grow. And who cares if they are not in perfectly straight lines. If it is a seedling left over from last year, I’m letting it be and will let it grow:

Like Dill

Dill always comes back from the seeds of last year's plant: no need to replant.

That will go very nice with the cucumbers that will grow on this vine, also a pop-up volunteer:

Cucumber vine - or maybe it's a pumpkin vine/

And as for perennial flowers. If you see one of these growing in your garden, jump for joy. It is not a weed, but the start of a beautiful lupine:

Lupine Seedling

Leave it alone, just where it is, and it may grow up to look just like its mom:

Community through a Cookbook: my Speech Before Hadassah

The other night, I was the featured speaker at the Installation Dinner of the Rochester, NY chapter of Hadassah.  For those of you who wanted to know what I spoke about, here it is, all 20 spoken minutes of it, though changed slightly as I had some visual cues for some of the jokes. And some of the jokes, well, it’s a Hadassah thing, so you may not understand. Also, if you are not up on the Jewish faith, there is a LOT of jargon that you may not get, so if you want to skip this post, I will understand. But it was an honor to speak and a great evening I’ll remember for a long time.

Hadassah is an organization known throughout the world for promoting Zionism and Israel, supporting advances in medicine, and advocating Jewish education.  Any art lover the world over surely knows about the Marc Chagall stained glass windows that grace the chapel in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital.

But, when I think of the Rochester chapter of Hadassah, the Rochester Hadassah Cookbook immediately comes to mind.

I have to tell you, I got this cookbook by way of Berkeley California. I had just become engaged to my husband, Craig. He was in graduate school. I was – uummmmm, hanging out and enjoying the California scene!

We got the Rochester Hadassah cookbook as an engagement present by way of a grad school friend of Craig’s named Mike. Mike was born and raised in Rochester. Mike came back to California after a trip back East and presented us with this book as an engagement gift from his mother.

And I said “Oh, Rochester. That’s somewhere upstate, like near Poughkeepsie!”

At that point in my life, I had no connection to Rochester outside of this cookbook.  Rochester was the furthest thing from my mind. We were living in California but that was temporary for us East Coasters.  Craig would finish his PhD, and then we were moving back to New York City, center of the universe!

and that

was that.

We did move back to New York City. Well, New Jersey actually. Craig found a job in the suburbs and I also found one – in Manhattan. Complete with a three-hour round trip commute on New Jersey Transit!

I landed this great job at a growing high-tech public relations firm. It was a time when they couldn’t find people fast enough to perform quality account work for the burgeoning, brand-new high-tech industry.  Ah, I miss the 90’s!

My boss was a stunning, statuesque blonde woman of 35. She had the corner office of our Park Avenue suite. To the north, her view faced uptown to Grand Central Station. To the West, she overlooked Park Avenue. She loved living the life of a single Manhattanite PR executive. However, she would tell us many times that her parents in Florida wished she would marry and give them grandchildren already. When she visited them, she instructed us to call her often on her cell phone, so her parents would see how important she was back at the office.

Sitting in my cube as a lowly – NO rising – account executive, I would imagine what it would be like to live that kind of life. Most of my co-workers were in their 20’s and single. Half their salary went to paying rent.

The other half – alcohol.

At 28, I was already the old married lady of the office, and Craig and I were starting our family.

After a few years and two kids later, we moved up to Rochester for Craig’s employment. It was then I learned that Rochester is waaaay further upstate than Poughkeepsie.

My company back in New York City still wanted me. They even offered to set up a virtual home office. But, reality set in. I was staring down at our first long Rochester winter with a one year-old and a three year-old as my only companions.  I didn’t know a soul in town.  Virtual office or not, I realized that building my social network here for my family would be more important than racking up more media hits for IBM. So, I politely said thanks but no thanks, and became a stay-at-home full time mom.

Stay-at-home moms rarely stay at home, as you know.  Those first few years here, I spent most of my time at Wegmans, the Strong Museum of Play, and the JCC.  When you’re the new mommy in town,  people are very interested in getting to know you. I realized that the Jewish moms I was meeting were fulfilling the mitzvah to welcome new Jews into the community.  We were invited as a family for Shabbat dinners on Friday nights and, during the week, playdates for the kids and I. I’ve heard that this courtship is called “mommy dating.”

More than a few times, I would eat something  prepared by a prospective mommy friend and say,

“WOW, this is great, where did you get this recipe?”

And one woman after the next would reply, “I made it from the Rochester Hadassah cook book!”

And I would reply, “OHHHH, I have that cookbook, I’ve had it for YEARS! I think I’ll start using it now.”

The JCC opened up to me a network of great women who believed in giving their kids a Jewish education in early childhood. I’m now over the rainbow from my own kids’ preschool years and teach preschool myself. I am in forever debt to people like Tzippy Kleinberg, Andrea Paprocki and Emily Fishman at the JCC  and later, Randi Fox Tabb at Keshet preschool for planting the very first seeds of Jewish knowledge for my kids.  Now that I’m a preschool teacher, I see the appreciation parents show when their little ones come home singing “Shabbat Shalom – Hey” or say a bracha every time they put a cookie in their little mouths.

Becoming a new parent can be the road back to Jewish observances.  In fact, a 2002 study by the Jewish Early Childhood Education Partnership described Jewish preschools as the Gateways to Jewish Life.   The time to get young families rooted back into Jewish community life is when their children are between the ages of birth and three years of age.

I remember when my son Nathan was in his first year of preschool at the JCC. I had an “aha” moment – a moment you knew that the Jewish foundations you lay for your child are really sinking in – in all places but at Michael’s.

Nathan was just 2 ½. I picked him up at the J and we went schmoozing at Michael’s.  From his seat in the shopping cart, he spied one of these big fake terra cotta gardening urns.

“Mommy” he said, in an angelic voice that only two and one half year olds have “They have a really big – Kiddush cup!”

By the way, Nathan is now well into his Torah studies as he becomes a Bar Mitzvah this November.

In addition to giving my children a Jewish education in their earliest years, being a stay-at-home mom afforded me the time to continue my own learning.  When living in New Jersey, I admired women who could get up and read Torah on Saturday mornings or who were involved with other aspects of Jewish communal life. But my three- hour round trip commute into the city left time for little else during the week.

Why did I decide to learn to read Torah later in life? I have to confess, it’s the rush. I have to get my adrenaline rush somewhere.  For one thing, I hate roller coasters. The only time I rode one was on a dare from Craig on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California. Craig jokingly said he would not marry me unless I rode the famed Big Dipper, a classic, rickety wooden roller coaster. As expected, I hated every second of that 60-second ride.  But I guess it was a religious experience because I kept praying aloud to God to please get me off!

So, if I want to get my heart pumping, I sign up for a Torah reading.

I encourage more Jewish women to also get on this thrill ride.   And don’t think, “I can’t do it because I didn’t grow up reading Torah,” because neither did I!

Growing up within my very Conservative synagogue in Staten Island, New York, boys preparing for their Bar Mitzvah were required to attend services on Saturday morning. Girls were required to go on Friday night. Girls would chant their Haftarah on Friday night and boys would be called to the Torah on Saturday morning. It was never questioned or debated if girls should have a larger role. That’s how it was.

We were taught that after our B’nei Mitzvot, boys were still required to go to shul but girls didn’t have to. Our rabbis, all Orthodox, said that girls were more spiritual by nature, thus relieving them of the obligation to attend services. They said if men were not required to go to shul, they would never go.

It’s true. Spirituality did come naturally to me. Each Friday night, I followed along with all of the melodies of Kabalat Shabbat. I never thought about the fact that after my Bat Mitzvah, I would not be asked to join a minyan if they needed a tenth, because I was not a man. I would not be asked to read from the Torah or participate in services.  It made me feel as though I didn’t count, and on a certain level, as a Jewish woman, I didn’t.

That summer, my parents took our family to Israel, where I was to have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony at the Kotel! Imagine that!  In my 13-year-old mind, I envisioned me chanting my Haftarah, the Kotel behind me, and all of Jerusalem listening!

Well, my actual “Bat Mitzvah” ceremony went something like this: I stood in a white blouse and a flowery skirt outside of the Kotel Plaza. I really did have a copy of my haftarah to chant. But  a rabbi in a black hat from some agency handed me a siddur, and asked me to read the Shma in English.

“But, I have my Haftarah! And I can chant the Sh’ma in Hebrew,”

“That’s not necessary. You are a girl. Just read it in English.”

Tova Hartman, a lecturer in the department of gender studies and education in Bar Ilan University wrote in her book, Feminism Encounters Traditional Judaism,  that living in Israel, she “knew there is no recipe or a structure on how to join Orthodoxy with feminism. In her own life, in order to give her daughters a model of religion she could live with, she had to form her own shul with a group of like-minded people, even if that meant she had to leave certain loyalties behind.”

Please don’t misunderstand me. I do have great respect for Orthodox Judaism. I admire their commitment to observing Shabbat, the hospitality they extend to guests on Saturday afternoons for lunch, and their dedication to a Jewish day school education.

I can also understand the values that Orthodoxy places on mothers as the first Jewish educators in a child’s life by being charged with creating a Jewish home.  But even Blu Greenberg, author of How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, commented in her book On Women and Judaism that “leaders of Orthodox halacha (law) must recognize that the general effect of exempting women from prayer conditions them to a negative or indifferent attitude toward prayer altogether.”

My feminist notions aside, when I became a mother, I appreciated why it is that women are not obligated to participate in time-bound mitzvot which could interfere with their tasks of mothering. But what I cannot accept is where “not obligated” evolved into “not allowed.”

My horizons on the role of women in synagogue life expanded when I moved out to California. Aside from daring me to ride roller coasters, Craig encouraged and taught me how to lead kabbalat shabbat at the Hillel at Cal Berkeley. There, the rabbi was a woman. For the first time, I heard the matriarchs mentioned next to the patriarchs in the chanting of the Amidah. Women lead services, had aliyot, and read from the Torah. This was so common, in fact, that once, a non-Jew came to our services and quietly asked, “Are men allowed to read from the Torah?”

I learned how to read Torah at age 37 thanks to a six-week adult education class led by Chazzan Martin Leubitz at Temple Beth El. On the first day of class, Chazan Leubitz informed us all that he had signed us up to read Torah in six week. That would be our final exam.

For me, I have come to realize that learning Torah is not an exercise in perfection, rather an act of participation and performing the mitzvah of studying Torah as a full-fledged member of the Jewish community.

Connections in the Jewish community, actually, would you believe a conversation in the women’s locker room at the JCC –  led me to landing my column at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.  Writing this column has been a return to my first love of newspaper writing.  It has also given me a reason to set up a home office, with a corner office in my kitchen.  To the south of my lavish two square-foot corner office – I have an excellent view of the piles of laundry that pile up in my family room.  To the East, there are dishes in the sink and groceries to put away. Directly before me is my blank computer screen, which I must fill with 600 well written words every week.

Writing my column is like riding a bicycle up and down a series of hills. All year long. On deadline day, I pedal the hardest.  I do a lot of the writing – as I did this speech, in my head, long before I sit down to my computer. I think about it at red lights, on walks, on line at Wegman’s. Writing takes a lot of rewriting, moving paragraphs around, weaving and reweaving them until every word fits into place.

It’s like that feeling you get when you untangle a necklace.

Then, I hit send. And I can finally coast downhill, for about a day. I finally pick myself up from my cushy corner office to the mundane never-ending tasks of laundry and dishes. I also take some time to get in a workout. A shabasana, the restive pose at the end of my Wednesday night yoga classes, are divine and well deserved after hitting send on my column.

Then, the search continues again. Because most of my connections are in the Jewish community, lots of people pitch me with Jewish story ideas. But, I’ve had to gently turn a lot of them away. When it comes to my personal identity, I am a Jewish American. But for the sake of the wider audience of the Democrat & Chronicle.

I’m not a Jewish reporter, I’m a reporter who is Jewish.

Between the lines of my column, however, Jewish themes can still be found.  A day devoted to cleaning up our parks or collecting unwanted pharmaceuticals –  those are the values of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world. Events that speak on helping care for our seniors or events at a senior center? That is Gimilut Hasadim – acts of kindness.

So I try not to comment or cover too many events or issues that impact the Jewish community.

Except for the recent incident where some teens were caught and charged with the hate crime of burning a swastika in Brighton. On the night before Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Rememberence Day. I had to speak out on that.

After a lot of back and forth with my editors, who questioned if such a heavy topic was the right fit for the Our Towns section, they agreed to keep my words. I thank them immensely for hearing me through on this. As I stated in last week’s column, I love covering the good in our communities. There is so much bad news in our world and I’m honored to be able to bring to readers news on events where they can participate and help out their community.  But suddenly, this columnist who is Jewish became a Jewish columnist and I had to speak out. Because, what do we mean, when we are saying “Never Again?”

You have to remember that when the news broke, our community was immersed in daylong Yom Hashoah observances. Included in this was a community wide program for teens: a staging of the play “What Will You Tell Your Children” written by Rochester native Jessie Atkin upon her return from a Journey for Jewish identity trip in 2005, where Jewish teens from the United States and Israel spend time together here, visiting concentration camps in Poland, and finally in Israel.  I’d like to thank Jodi Beckwith for directing the play and to our Jewish education leaders for bringing the event to our children.

And how was this play received by our teens, many who never experienced anti-Semitism first hand? To give you an idea –  there were about 250 kids in the room to watch the 90 minute performance. Suzie Lyons, the director of Education at Temple Brith Kodesh, noted that only 11 kids got up the whole time to use the bathroom

Have you ever been on the receiving end of hearing a racial or religious joke? Usually, the joker defends his joke by saying – it’s okay, some of my best friends are: Black or Jewish, Chinese, you fill in the ethnic group.

On a positive note, I want to bring to your attention the overwhelming response of coming together in the Jewish and wider community.  The morning after the swastika was burned, the Home Acres neighborhood had a vigil attended by Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel who called it a despicable act. In last week’s editorial page, the hate crime received a “thumbs down” by the D&C. There were several letters to the editor – one jointly written by leaders in the Christian and Muslim communities – condemning the act.

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Our  Jewish youth, many who know this boy, a student at Brighton High School, are struggling. They are searching for a rationalization why he may have done this, they think  – there must be a reason,   There’s got to be a reasonable answer.

Seventeen is an extremely vulnerable age where friendships run thick and rule supreme. And the apparent betrayal of a friend at age 17 is painful to accept. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that this young man was considering the feelings the Jewish kids he knew when he allegedly planned to burn a swastika. Or maybe he just thought it would be okay to do this as a joke, because after all, some of his best friends were Jewish!

Both boys have pled not guilty which means that they will have another hearing in town court on May 25. This leaves us with many questions.  Was this an isolated event or should we fear a wave of similar copy cat crimes?  Did these boys really understand the gravity of the timing of their act or do they truly comprehend what horrors were committed under the symbol of the swastika?  And if they didn’t, where are we going wrong, in our school system, in our discussions at home, that we are not telling our youth enough about that very dark chapter in human history.

To leave you on a positive note about this, I want to tell you about the group of seventh graders I had the pleasure of teaching this year at Temple Brith Kodesh.  They were absolutely dreamy, I mean it!  While they are not exactly enthralled about learning about the minutia of the Hebrew language, the topic of carrying on Jewish identity, especially as they face post Bne’ Mitzvah life, keeps them engaged. On the Macro level, they have a very strong sense of who they are as Jews.  After the swastika incident, the debate arose in my class whether middle school trips to Washington D.C. should include a mandatory visit to the US Holocaust memorial. Some students, in light of what just happened, thought it should be a priority to visit the museum for all students – Jewish and non-Jewish. Others thought that the serious theme of this museum would overshadow what may be the first time a young student visits our nation’s capital. But it was good to see my seventh graders debating and discussing, trying to work it out. And again, not one of my students asked to leave the class to go to the bathroom, can you imagine?

So, my advice to you tonight? I guess it is to maintain a focus in your life on Jewish education, from the earliest years of our children and well into our own adulthood.  While raising a family, keep a hand in your own profession, however small, and as much as your family and your own sanity can handle. Mothering is the best job of all.  But don’t disappear, don’t let your own individuality get folded and lost into the lives of your husband and children, just as egg whites get folded into the batter of a Passover Sponge Cake, which a recipe can be found within the pages of the Rochester Hadassah Cookbook. Thank you for listening.

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